Updated: Jul 26, 2019
If your story is similar to mine… you've been spending the past 4 years, maybe 5 years or even 6 years like yours truly, scrapping & fighting for your college degree. It's real!
College tests you to a point where sometimes you doubt yourself & the point of even obtaining your degree. It wasn't too long ago that I was losing countless hours of sleep to Blackboard assignments, due at midnight that I procrastinated on to begin with...pretty sure I'm not alone. College is a beautiful mashup of taking hella L's while somehow finessing any situation possible at the same time. I didn't learn much of anything in college that "translated" into the real world to help me be great. I'm sure I'm not alone!
Calculus won't help you type out that sensitive email to your boss regarding the slip in your performance. I'm also pretty sure "chemistry" won't explain why Sarah doesn't want to accept your awkward & excessive offers for lunch either...go figure!
However, getting my degree did teach me how to live with never-ending stress, the importance of socializing with diverse groups of people, how to manage my emotions during "trying times" & finally what my limits were before I "broke". Personally, if you find yourself asking, "How can I survive corporate America, when I barely survived college?"...well I have the answers! Your focus should be less on the books & subject matters you studied and more about yourself and who you are.
It's not always about who's the smartest person in the room, sometimes it's about who's the most secure in their own skin. After graduation, your GPA is irrelevant. You are NOT your GPA!
See sometimes, it's about who can bring people together to achieve a common goal...most of the time it's really about if people even like you enough to begin with! The main premise I'm trying to push on you is that, people matter and how they view you & your skills is equally important. The moment you begin to sleep on that fact, you begin the process of shutting yourself off to opportunities. Very soon, you'll see how hard it is to survive in that manner.
- For Starters-
As previously mentioned, I began my collegiate career after graduating high school in 2011. I literally fought my way to my Information Systems degree, finally graduating in the winter of 2017. Even though academically college was tough for me (the classes I didn’t study for) everything else came to me pretty easily.
Through a great organization named NSBE (The National Society of Black Engineers) I was able to earn my first co-op experience with the Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
Luckily, even though I was “C to B+ish” caliber student in the classroom, in the workplace I was a 5-star college recruit who was smart enough to learn what’s needed on the go but also outgoing & well versed enough to not look as if I didn’t belong. This experience showed me that I could compete & survive with the best of the best. Ivy League kids included (beats chest)! J&J loved me so much, they allowed me to continue working as a co-op/intern for 4 years! In that time span, I took 2 semesters off to focus solely on working. (You’re probably asking yourself…when do you graduate!? Why push your graduation back!?”) Back then as a spry 20 year old kid, I assumed having “real work” experience would trump ANY thing I could ever get out of the classroom…and to a degree my assumption was correct! Once I began working in the IT space, I never really looked back. The money was too nice & knowing that I’m not working a job that doesn’t pay me my true value...changed the game for me. Gaining that experience so early in college put me in the position to control the trajectory of my career, before most of my peers even thought about interning...
Having that experience EMPOWERED me & exposed me to a world that I could succeed in.
After working in that environment, I felt prepared for anything and that I could earn any job, with any company that I wanted! This mindset helped me land a full-time salaried job with an industry leading building materials company before I even had the time to stress over finals! That dynamic doesn’t happen often, especially for somebody with my “background”.
-Taking a Break-
"Hey! I know you just graduated from college, but we hope you're ready to start working here the next 40 years of your life or until you die..which every happens sooner. Have fun!"
Does that not sound a little dark, deep, creepy and all the above? Yeah, well welcome to "adulting"! But in all seriousness, that dynamic is one us younger folks seem very fond to skip over. Wrapping your mind around the fact that you'll no longer be judged by semesterly grade cards or angry glances from mom during your parent teacher conferences can be real. Starting your career can be like jumping into an abyss of the absolute unknown...which to some can be intimidating. Before I started my new job, my company asked me would I be interested in taking the month off before I started working full time. This sounded really good except, I wouldn't be paid until AFTER my hiatus...eh. At that moment, I was working part-time as an intern while wrapping up my final semester of school.
I wasn't broke but at the same time, I wasn't rich enough to be walking around not thinking of the bills I needed to pay...
My subconscious had been so used to living paycheck to paycheck that when the offer was given to me, without hesitation I declined. Why would I want to stay in my broke college lifestyle? How would my bills be paid? How would I put gas into my car? Why continue to fret over my finances that were directly contributing to the added stress in my life? These were the thoughts that scared me out of even considering the break. My hiring manger told me to take my time, reconsider taking some time off & go do the things that make me happy. In the midst of navigating my collegiate career...I lost touch with what made me truly happy, because I didn't have the time nor focus to apply the energy. In a way, I lost a little bit of myself & identity. It happens to the best of us...
As you begin your career, understanding the concept of taking time off for yourself to ensure you're okay mentally is big! You can't place a value on self-reflection or how important it is to be "self-aware"...
After taking a week to digest my vacation offer, I accepted it. The last time I had a month to myself with nothing to do, it was the summer after my high school graduation. This was long over due! I ended up buying a puppy, going to Cancun, visited family, worked on my photography business & binged on all the movies I could watch on Netflix. The time off did wonders for my mental health and gave me the time to do some soul searching. The next time I'd be able enjoy a month long break, I'd either be on paternity leave with a kid or unemployed...so the break definitely mattered!
You have the rest of your life to "work" so make sure you run with ANY & ALL time that you get to yourself...
Transitioning from college to the workplace isn't as trivial as it sounds either. Things move at a slower pace after you graduate and that's the reality. Promotions don't always come every year, if at all...it may be 3-5 years before you receive your first big opportunity. Mentally wrapping your mind around the fact that, things won't always progress at "your speed" will save you stress & angst. If you can stay mentally tough and not let the speed change brake you out of the character that got you hired to begin with...you are well on your way to surviving in the corporate environment. Sometimes it pays to take things slow!
-Meeting Your Team-
You only get one time to leave a first impression...so how do you want people to perceive you in your new workplace? What energy do you want to convey to your manager and the rest of the team? Being the new person can be fun and cool but you'd be naive to think you're not under the magnifying glass at any given moment. Folks will watch your moves & pay attention to exactly how you carry yourself.
People pay attention even when you feel like they aren't. If your the person who only does the "right thing" when you're being watched, you'll be in for an ugly surprise when reality finally catches up with you...
Don't start you career off on the bad foot when you don't have too! Use your first week or two to learn about your team & the folks you'll be working with on a daily basis. When you work 40 hours a week with the same people, having a healthy & positive relationship with these individuals is a must! It's a lot easier to co-exist around "work family" versus strangers who congregate in a building everyday just to keep a livelihood. Also, if for some reason you grew up in a bubble and don't know how to interact with people who aren't from your background, I'd suggest you fix that ASAP. Working & collaborating with people who don't hail from your background, can be the difference between you moving up the corporate ladder or being stuck on a level you don't even agree with. There's 4 main points that you should touch on when you finally meet with the members from your team.
Learn about their backgrounds (college, major, hometown etc...)
Learn about their family dynamic (married, single, kids, pets etc...)
Learn about their interests & hobbies (marathon running, fishing, stock markets etc...)
Learn about what they do at work & how you can learn from them
If you can't tell, LEARNING doesn't stop after you graduate. However, the strategy behind "what" you learn & "why" does!
Strategy will make you or break you in corporate America, so it's best to always think accordingly. By taking the time to learn about your coworkers backgrounds, family dynamics, hobbies, their role & how you can learn from them, it shows humility, respect & likable traits. People like talking about themselves, it's a natural thing. When you give someone the respect it takes to listen and genuinely learn from them, they don't forget & appreciate it. This is a small example of how you "invest" into people so that one day you'll see the returns in the future.
Being conscious & having a strategy for how you interact with people isn't fake or deceiving...
All relationships are give & take! Having a clear plan of what you'd like to "take away" from people, shows you took the time to think things through. It also shows, that you were considerate enough to not waste their time in the process. Sadly, sometimes you only get one chance to waste somebody's time...
- Know your Money -
The biggest misconception that I had while being in college was that after graduation I'd be rich because for so long I was surviving with little to nothing. I envisioned myself living lavishly with expensive trips overseas & guiltless shopping sprees. Endless funding for all of my unhealthy fast food, that was never needed to begin with in the first place. The dream sounded oh so good but as is often the case, reality had other plans.
Being realistic can be scary because up to this point, shooting for the stars was all you've ever known...
The dream tells you that you'll need that new car once you begin your career however, reality might keep you in check and recommend you put that "new car" money towards your student loan debt.
It sucks, but being responsible matters...
After earning a couple of paychecks, I learned a valuable lesson that helped put things into perspective for myself. Your expectations to begin your career shouldn't revolve around being rich, because you'll set yourself up for disappointment. Don't apply that stress to yourself, it's not needed! Be prepared to exchange your broke college lifestyle for peace of mind & security. This dynamic may not sound too sexy at all... but that's okay! As you complete your on-boarding for your new role, make it a point to educate yourself over your newly acquired benefits, insurance, 401K, stock options, bonuses, etc... I wouldn't suggest you take a passive approach to learning about how your money works. Why would you?!
- Success Is What You Make It -
Success is a subjective word when you think about it...
Use that very fact to your advantage early on. It doesn't matter if your first role is glamorous, cool or sexy. To a certain degree, the pay doesn't reflect your success early on either. Try to define your success by the experiences you have early on. Define your success by how you seek out growth opportunities to level up. Define your success by looking at yourself holistically, are you even growing professionally? Are you gaining new & marketable skills? When you use yourself as the measuring stick, it helps you to avoid outside distractions. This is your life we're talking about and nobody else.
How can you reach your true potential, if your too focused on what others have going on behind the scenes?
How can you expand your pockets and really get into your bag, when you're too focused on comparing yourself to someone else? You can try...but why even put yourself in the "mental" situation? When you can take a step back and think abstractly like that, it shows your growing & maturing. This is a serious component of what it means to be "adulting". Sounds lame but it's reality!
When you start your career, the one resource that you have an abundance of is "time". Time is money, invest & use it wisely...
College really ain't corporate America.
So don't forget your "time" is now.
Even when you don't acknowledge it....